What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is a broad term that describes any sexual act that is coerced or in which the victim is incapable of providing consent. Rape (including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration), drug facilitated assault, intimate partner violence, groping, and sexual torture are all forms of sexual assault, as are flashing, peeping, cat calls and sexual harassment.
How common is sexual assault?
Unfortunately, sexual assault is incredibly common. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, someone in the United States is physically assaulted every 98 seconds. About 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men has been a victim of rape. The majority of sexual assaults are committed on people under the age of 30.
Who perpetrates sexual assault?
There is a general belief that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers, but that is not true. In reality, more than 70% of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim already knows. About half of all perpetrators are over the age of 30. Sexual predators tend to be repeat offenders. In fact, more than half of all alleged rapists have been convicted of a least one prior rape.
What are the effects of sexual assault?
Sexual assault causes a staggering array of negative effects. Immediately after an attack, victims may have to cope with physical injuries, STDs, or pregnancy, as well as flashbacks, lingering feelings of fear, and insomnia. If these feelings persist, they can eventually lead to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Victims of sexual assault are also at increased risk for developing depression, suicidal feelings, substance addiction, and eating disorders. Victims often have problems with trust after an assault and may have problems forming healthy relationships. They are at increased risk for self-harming behaviors.
The second injury
How a victim of sexual assault is treated right after an attack—or right after telling of an attack—has a direct impact on how quickly and how well she will heal. If victims are treated with callousness by medical personnel, law enforcement, friends or family, if they are blamed for the attack or not believed, they are much more likely to develop long-term symptoms of trauma. Historically, victims of sexual assault have been treated very poorly by other members of society, and many victims claim that this poor treatment is harder to deal with than the actual attack. This has led some to dubbed the poor treatment of victims the “second injury.”
What are remedies for the effects of sexual assault?
In order to insure the best long-term outcome for a victim, she or he must be treated with kindness and compassion directly after an assault—or anytime the victim chooses to disclose information about an assault. First and foremost, it is important to believe a victim of sexual assault. It is equally important not to imply to the victim that the attack was somehow her or his fault.
Directly after a sexual assault, helpers should ensure the victim’s physical safety and facilitate medical care if necessary. After this, it is important to give the victim control over the situation by allowing him or her to decide where to go and who to be with. Right after an assault, victims may or may not want to talk about what they’ve been through. It’s important not to press the matter. The first rules are to help the victim feel safe again and back in control.
If treated well by the people around them, many victims of sexual assault will naturally start to feel better over time. Others may need some form of group or individual psychotherapy to process what they’ve been through. Medication can also help in alleviating feelings of depression or anxiety.
With proper care and treatment, victims of sexual assault can overcome what they’ve been through and go one to lead satisfying, successful lives.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse describes any sexual behavior between an adult and someone under the age of eighteen. It can also describe sexual behavior between two underage people if there is a significant age difference between them or they are developmentally mismatched. While child sexual abuse includes obvious behaviors like touching and penetration, it also includes less obvious behaviors, such as looking at or showing body parts in a sexual manner, sharing pornography, or talking inappropriately about sex.
How common is child sexual abuse?
Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is incredibly common. Up to 40% of all women and 13% of all men in the United States report that they experienced at least one episode of sexual abuse in childhood. Internationally, some regions report that up to 60% of children are sexually abused, making it a problem of pandemic proportions.
Who commits child sexual abuse?
There is a general belief that most child molesters are strangers that take children by force, but this is not true. In actuality, 90% of all sexual abuse is committed by someone the child already knows—30% by family members (such as fathers, stepfathers, uncles and brothers) and 60% by acquaintances (such as teachers, coaches, neighbors, and clergymen). The vast majority of child molesters are heterosexual men.
While some perpetrators will use violence and force to commit child sexual abuse, many don’t. Instead, they groom children for abuse. Grooming is a process by which an abuser slowly and methodically wears down a child’s resistance so that the child actually believes she or he has consented to sexual activities with the adult.
Even though a child or adolescent may feel that she or he consented and was somehow complicit in the sexual behavior, this is never true. Someone under the age of eighteen is too immature, emotionally and legally, to provide consent. Child molesters use this immaturity to manipulate their victims.
What are the effects of child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse can have long-term consequences for victims. Adults who were abused as children are at increased risk for future sexual assaults, depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance abuse, self-harm behaviors such as cutting, suicidality, Borderline Personality Disorder, and dissociative disorders. Because sexual abuse happens while a child is still developing, it can permanently alter the victim’s sense of self, as well as his or her ability to trust others, making it difficult to form healthy relationships or enjoy healthy sexuality later in life.
What are remedies for the effects of child sexual abuse?
Many adults who were sexually abused as children do not realize how it may have affected them, so they don’t seek help for the abuse. Instead, they eventually enter psychotherapy for secondary issues like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and relationship problems. During the course of therapy, victims of child abuse often begin to see a link between their current problems and their past abuse. In remembering the abuse and mourning its damage, survivors can free themselves to lead more fulfilling lives.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition in which a person feels perpetually unstable. People suffering from BPD typically have an unstable sense of self, unstable emotions, and unstable relationships. Desperate to be loved yet fearing abandonment, they have a tendency to quickly attach to others only to become enrage when others can’t meet their impossible expectations. Deep inside, people with BPD struggle with feelings of self-loathing, which can cause them to self-harm and become suicidal.
What causes Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
The is a strong correlation between Borderline Personality Disorder and trauma in childhood. Specifically, many people with BPD report histories of neglect, abandonment, and/or abuse in childhood, including verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. People with BPD often report that as children their thoughts and feelings were invalidated by caregivers. They also report that their caregivers were either emotionally unavailable or treated them inconsistently—running hot and cold. It is theorized that abnormal attachment patterns with caregivers may be the basis for later developing Borderline Personality Disorder.
How common is Borderline Personality Disorder?
At any given time, approximately 1.6% of the general population is suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. Women are three times more likely to suffer from BPD as men. This is possibly because girls are about three to four times more likely to suffer child sexual abuse than boy. BPD is more common in young adults than older adults, possibly because people outgrow the disorder as they age.
What are the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder?
The most noticeable feature of Borderline Personality Disorder is stormy personal relationships. People with BPD tend to be starving for love and affection, yet they have an inherent distrust of others and constantly fear disrespect and abandonment. Because of this, people with BPD are hypersensitive to any kind of insult or rejection and are notorious for becoming enraged with people who they believe have hurt them.
People with Borderline Personality Disorder suffer from feelings of shame and deep self-loathing. This make them susceptible to depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm behaviors, including suicidality.
What are remedies for Borderline Personality Disorder?
Due to self-harm behaviors, suicide attempts, and substance abuse, people with BPD are frequent users of mental health services. Long-term psychotherapy is the preferred treatment for sufferers of BPD. Dialectic Behavior Therapy, either in a group or individually, has also been shown to be effective. In addition, people with BPD may benefit from medication to help with feelings of anxiety and depression. With proper treatment, most people with BPD can overcome the disorder completely and go on to lead satisfying and fulfilling lives.
Dr. Michelle Stevens is a psychologist, writer, and expert on trauma. She wrote the bestselling book, Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving (Putnam, 2017).